road trip
First step of customer journey mapping: give up on the idea that you can "control" it PHOTO: Shutterstock

“A journey,” said John Steinbeck, “is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

Steinbeck knew that lesson well. In "Travels with Charley," the author spent much of the travelogue lost. Similarly, many marketers often find their efforts to control the consumer journey counterproductive. You can’t force consumers through a prescribed path, as many have discovered.

The remedy for this marketing dilemma is simple. Rather than attempt to directly influence consumer activity, prepare a path that is reactive and offers multiple brand touchpoints to help consumers reach their destination.

Anticipating Where Customers Need Help 

Picture a Venn diagram. One circle is called "brand touchpoints," one is called "customer journey" and the third, "customer environments." 

A marketer’s goal is to be where the three intersect.

Brand touchpoints are anywhere consumers can interact with a brand. But sometimes marketers create brand touchpoints outside of a consumer’s journey. Sometimes a customer’s journey takes them places where no brand touchpoints exist. Other times, brand touchpoints are there, but show up at the wrong time in the customer journey. 

The sweet spot is where a consumer is ready to interact and you’ve put the right brand touchpoints in their environment.

One common exercise to reach this goal is to map out all possible touchpoints on a consumer’s journey. Marketers often do this exercise on a bulletin board with old-school materials like multicolor Post-It notes.

This effective exercise helps marketers brainstorm on the best ways to reach the consumer in each circumstance. They encounter and answer questions like, “What do you do when a consumer abandons their online shopping cart?”

The best approach in that situation is to offer an array of options and to lay the groundwork so a consumer has a positive view of your brand. For instance, there’s nothing a marketer can do to directly influence word of mouth, which has the most influence on purchase decisions. But they can be authentic and offer a genuinely positive experience. 

While you can't influence word of mouth directly, your actions will impact it indirectly.

Be Like a GPS: Offer Guidance and Adaptability

GPS helps you get where you want to go. If you take a detour, it helps you get back on your path. But GPS doesn’t tell you where to go. It makes recommendations, but adapts if you choose to take another route.

That’s an apt metaphor for the consumer journey — when it’s done right. As much as they'd like to, marketers can’t move a consumer through the purchase funnel. But they do need to be available should the consumer need help along their journey.

Sounds like common sense, but companies sometimes get so dazzled by data they start thinking they can directly influence the customer journey if only they crunch enough of it. 

Excessive focus on metrics ignores the more traditional aspect of marketing, which centers on using the best approach and best messaging to maintain the brand essence while also helping the consumer fix whatever problem she’s grappling with at a particular moment.

For example, she might find herself at such a crossroads when 5 pm rolls around and she realizes she has no plans for dinner. At such a time, a restaurant ad offering a dinner deal might work — but only if the consumer has previously heard enough about the brand to form a favorable impression. 

Above all, marketers need to market: Try different messaging, see what works and constantly refine it. Whatever you do, don't try to engineer the customer journey — it's the wrong path to take.